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Breasts are strange, strange things.
From the simple anatomy of ducts terminating at a nipple to feed offspring, to the swelling of puberty (uniquely to humans) or pregnancy where fat is laid down to form the curves we are so familiar with, what is the magic that these simple organs possess? Why does everyone love them?
Firstly, understanding our love for breasts is complex. Is it instinctive and childlike? Conditioned? Sexual? Is it even universal?
It would seem that with a few personalised exceptions, most people like breasts- this can vary from a casual interest as part of the whole aesthetic of a female body, with main attention to other areas, right up to the myopic eyes-on-stalks focus so accurately depicted in cartoons. One might expect that heterosexual women and gay men would not be attracted to breasts, but this is largely untrue. Though they may not be sexually aroused by them, for the most part they still hold an allure that is non-sexual.
Breasts, seen through the eyes of those who are not aroused by them, still have many positive connotations. They form part of the aesthetic of classical ‘femininity’ with the fashionable and gamine hourglass shape indicating youth and vitality, or indeed as the more ancient earth-mother shape body, representing fertility, comfort and abundance. These deep and ancient associations still play out today, with studies showing that wealthy men prefer smaller breasts, and those with money troubles prefer them larger.
In addition to the aesthetic, there is a primal attraction from even newborns, to home in on round soft objects that come to a point and suckle them. That is how humans and other mammals have survived up to this point. Associations we form with breasts from the earliest age are usually positive. They are of being fed, or being held, loved and warm. They speak to us of comfort, relaxation and safety. Even without sexual reference, they signal pleasure.
They are kind of fun. As a secondary sexual characteristic associated with women (though not exclusively, as their development is almost entirely due to hormones) they move around more than the rest of the torso, come in a huge array of shapes and sizes, and can be prominently displayed, or semi hidden, just below the face due to their location. Because of their only quasi-sexual nature, they may be seen as a little less intimidating than say, genitals or buttocks, to look at or touch (touching without permission is still a sex crime though.)
Having established the generally benevolent nature and history of the breast, the focus on their sexualisation is a little more complex.
Sculpture consisted entirely of male forms until 4AD. The depiction of the female form as beautiful began after that date, and the representations of the time were generally small-breasted with wide hips and a slight pear shape. If we look at Aphrodite, we see a far more achievable body goal shape for most women than we do on Instagram. Far later, in the Renaissance, we see a lot of breasts depicted, often with infants nearby. The women shown are a little heavier, but the breasts are usually still fairly modestly sized. Strangely, throughout much of history, the breast was not seen as one of the more taboo parts of a woman’s body (compared to say, the legs) and much of the clothing from times we consider to be quite sexually conservative promote and expose much or even all of the breasts.
The focus on a large bust becoming truly desirable was perhaps in the 50s with conical (and often stuffed) bras to obtain the hourglass shape that was the fashion. The first breast implant was performed in 1962, and became increasingly popular, with the top-heavy enhanced look gracing page 3 firmly from the 90s. The UK average bra size has gone from a 34B to a 36DD – this is thought to be in part down to average higher body weight, change in diet and exercise regimes, but is surely also largely in part to the popularity of implants. There are between around 7000-12000 breast augmentation operations performed each year in the UK, with many more performed overseas. Conversely, around half as many aim to go smaller.
Does the modern ideal of the ‘perfect breast’ really even exist in nature? Of the words used to describe favourite breast type in studies among heterosexual men, the top choice is ‘perky’ (showing youth and health). The top-rated breasts were the firmest (signalling youth), and slightly bigger was generally slightly better (signalling higher oestrogen and fertility). An unlikely trinity to possess, certainly. A combination requiring some skilled scalpel-work for all but a very genetically blessed teenager.
Large, round, bouncy, high, firm, pert breasts are not the norm. Breast tissue and skin just don’t behave that way. Silicone does.
Are we getting too hung up on Instagram-airbrushed images being taken as the norm, and anything else (like our real bodies) therefore being considered inadequate? A 2020 study found that only 1/3 of UK women like their own breasts, with nearly half of these saying they were too small.
In a conversation with a male friend about the magical allure of breasts today, this came back around another way. He stated that breasts were part of a woman’s body, and women’s bodies were beautiful compared to men, as men have ‘hard lines and dangly bits’. I mentioned the beauty of the male statues of Ancient Greece, and he commented that they were ‘chiselled and perfect and real men almost never look like that naked’. I queried whether he thought that most women, when naked, looked like the ones he had been referring to, which I think is a fair point. We can have hard lines and dangly bits too. In fact, we almost always do.
Breasts cannot be exercised, grown, shrunk, tightened, evened-out or reshaped in any natural way (other than perhaps pregnancy and lactation). They say nothing about your physical health, personal worth, intellect, self-control, libido, sexual preferences or promiscuity- and yet are constantly used to depict and indicate all these things. What’s worse, is women are unkind to each other about them. We always have been. The girl in your class at school who suddenly grabs the attention of the boys with her blossoming bust is a figure of envy and gossip – the late bloomer (or never bloomer) doing her best in an A cup has snide jokes made to her face that she is somehow inadequate because of it and should laugh at herself (that one would have been me). The large breasted woman is surely a slut, the flat chested girl is surely a lesbian. Why?
Firstly, with their enthusiastic consent.
Breasts do have some sexual function, for some people. There is a little irony to it though. The smaller the breast, in general, the more sensitivity and enjoyment can be had from nipple stimulation, and the more easily the nipples become aroused. For aficionados of breasts, focussing on the larger sizes may be visually stimulating to you, but playing with them will generally do very little physically for the pleasure of the recipient. Many large breasted women say they can’t feel it, or often that they don’t like it. Small breasts, on the other hand, often have highly sensitive nipples, and can be crucial to the arousal process, as part of generating orgasm or even nipplegasm alone. When you have your small breasted date therefore, don’t assume that you should just leave the bra on and focus elsewhere. Not only is it a little hurtful and insulting, it’s frustrating sexually.
I recall a conversation about breasts with a male swinger friend some years ago. He said “It’s strange. A lot of the time you see big boobs, and you just notice them and want to play with them. But then sometimes, you go out and you feel like you really want to find a girl with small breasts. I don’t think it works the other way around though. I don’t think girls ever go out for the night really hoping to find a guy with a small dick”. (He’s wrong there, but that’s a tale for another day).
Photo credit: Thanks to Charley B aka @curvaceousmistressofthemind on Instagram